Baddest Babes of Iran


by Tara Aghdashloo

Mixing their rich and sophisticated cultural heritage with fresh, multi-disciplinary practices, contemporary Iranian artists play a major role in challenging the common perception of Iranian art and culture. In this edition, Tara Aghdashloo focuses on up-and-coming Iranian female artists.

Seems like we can’t get past a few clichés when it comes to the words ‘Iranian’ and ‘women’, either individually or together. I’ll let other pieces tend to the singular yet expansive notions of what Iran is and who it may represent, and “who” these women are and why “they matter”.

In the age of Trump-bigotism and far-right ideological resurgence, we are reeling back, really far back, to basics. I’ll let this piece familiarize you with a few incredible young artists who are Iranian and also women.

Arefeh Mobaraki

Arefeh Mobaraki

Arefeh Mobaraki​ is from Isfahan. She’s a painter and a photographer, and what I love is how distinct and separate her practices are. It’s as if the person taking the photos - dimly lit, often melancholic and humble in their visceral penetration - and the person painting the portraits - asymmetrical faces whose eyes you can’t turn away from, are by two different people. Her palette is sophisticatedly simple, her style is mature and in many ways unexpected of what some expect of an “Iranian” artist. She's a commanding presence in Tehran’s art scene, where she’s recently moved — even if its inhabitants don’t know it yet.

Arefeh Mobaraki

Arefeh Mobaraki

While Arefeh’s photographs are documented “slices of life” around her, Zahra Khorami's works are brightly staged narratives. Her Aquarium Syndrome series depict scenes of domestic rage, apathy, lust and other sins. Her works are clean and highly exposed, and it’s clear that there isn’t anything there that wasn’t intended to be. Khorami’s subjects are provocative and unhinged, but at their core there is a deep philosophical interrogation, a light on the darker parts of society where not many want to expose, especially in a culture that is used to the veneer of “everything is fine” for the sake of ‘abe-rou’ or dignity. 

Zahra Khorami

Zahra Khorami: Aquarium Syndrome, 2016

I’m sorry that I have a lot of artist friends but I’ll always give you a disclaimer when I include one of them — such as ​Elham Issari​. Insider tip: she’s been obsessed with horses since we were 9. The obsession has led her to have horses at their family home outside of Tehran and also occasionally work at stables. And of course, she paints horses, as well bodies of flesh morphing into abstract entities, or a hyper-realistic branch looking like limbs of a dancing human or the insides of a horse’s eye. The harrowing marriage of reality and the surreal make her a powerful, perceptive painter. I believe some of the best art I’ve known has been a product of obsession. And Elham is worthy of being the subject of obsession, too. 

Elham Issari

Elham Issari

Thank god for Instagram. In a country where the government’s worst fear is its own youth and their ability to communicate with each other and express their individual aesthetics, Instagram has been a menace to authorities and a playground for everyone else.

There is​ Farzane Ghadyanloo,​ a hunter of her environment. Her videos make you want to spend an eternity in their digital reality. She is a voyeur like no other — I honestly don’t know how she does it, filming strangers awkwardly getting into the busy Tehran Metro, passing time at the station or taking refuge from the rain, or capturing herself draped under half of an afternoon rey of sun in her room. She is a fly on the wall, if the fly edited each few-second clip with its random successor in a mystifying ease. She takes photos as well, but I'm mostly mesmerized by the videos in all their mundanity, beauty, distance. She exposes parts of everyday city life I’ve never seen, and also the ones I’ve seen, streets I recognise, trees I remember tall and green and gray in the fall, having grown since I’ve been exiled. [Editor's note: Farzane's work is currently on display at Salzburg's FOTOHOF]

Melodie Hojabr​ is a supergirl. Her colorful illustrations are hard not to enjoy. Like many in her generation, Melodie is the product of Iranian families moving back and forth between their country and elsewhere, Europe for example, and France in her case. She had a reverse immigration from Paris to Iran, went to school and is now a recognizable name in the Iranian art scene for the variety of places her works appear on: books, magazines, stickers, exhibitions, and museums. Icons of Iran’s often make appearances in her busy but clean compositions, mixed with an array of other international motifs and figures. S​he's cool, man.

Mélodie Hojabr Sadat

Mélodie Hojabr Sadat: Flying Rug, 2011

Shahed Saffari ​is another illustrator whose simple black and white lines create entire universes of imagery. Her portraits are just perfect, and she often draws herself, who makes a beautiful model. Shahed combines the angular and the organic, the solid with the transparent, and her work has a wonderfully introspective quality, where you feel like you’re peering into her thoughts. Her friends, her self, and views of her room, juxtaposed with the unnatural are all chronicled in the pieces.

Shahed Saffari

Shahed Saffari: knock out mice


I'm beyond the blue,.

A post shared by Shahed Saffari (@shahedsaffari) on Aug 16, 2016 at 9:32am PDT

And I’ll finish off with ​Narenj Kazemi’s​ large pieces, with a rug-like quality in shiny monochromes that depict Persian mythology, patterns and poetry. They are decorative and pleasing regardless of their epic nature, and I can imagine them at any contemporary gallery. These are works that do ‘look’ Middle Eastern, but are completely deconstructed and modernized.


Working After A month . . . #painting#always#relaxing

A post shared by narenj (@narenjkazemi) on Feb 8, 2017 at 12:21pm PST

...don’t you wish you were in Iran? There are hundreds of exhibitions in Tehran alone, and weekends are gallery-hopping days for those who like art, and those who just want to be seen. This vibrant, nuanced artistic scene, with a powerful female gaze and a new male narrative, is pulsating all over the country. You don’t have to look hard to see it.

Tara Aghdashloo is a writer, filmmaker and curator. She often chooses art as a subject to write or make documentaries about. Tara was born in Tehran, Iran, and she lived in Toronto, Canada before moving to London, UK. She's interested in critical theory, politics, sake, feminism, and a good story. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.


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